The other day I was inside the departure lounge at Heathrow seeing off a friend on a Trans-Atlantic flight. I had reasons to speak with an officious airport worker sitting at an American Airlines desk who provided special assistance bookings, such as managing wheelchair access. She was Eastern European.
Something about her disagreed with my spirit, even before I actually said a word to her. She had this look on her face that she was unhappy about something and she spoke to people as if she was masking an irritation.
When I eventually spoke to her and she replied telling me that I needed to walk down to a certain section of the airport, I was vexed. What incensed me was the way she formed her fingers into tiny ‘feet’ walking across her desk – a bit like those old Yellow Pages ads advising us to ‘let our fingers do the walking.’
Initially, I thought she was joking. When I saw a serious look on her face, the realisation hit me hard. She was condescending, disrespectful and unprofessional. “Why the hell are you being so condescending?” I demanded. “I asked you for directions; you don’t need to be so frigging ridiculous about it!” I may have used a stronger word.
The second that loose word came out I regretted it but I was in a highly pissed off zone, which is a poor excuse. “Please don’t swear at me like that,” she said, predictably, wrestling to regain some kind of moral high ground but sounding like someone whose breath stank of manure. “Well, don’t be so patronising! Walking your fingers as if you are talking to some blasted idiot. You’re damn rude!”
I wished I had not said that word. I would have had more leeway to handle this situation. I could have (and maybe should have) reported her to her manager; maybe written to the airline about this person, or handled it courteously and politely but with irreproachable bite. I was angry with myself that I allowed this person to disturb my usual cool, calm and collectedness.
Was her action racist? I am not sure. Was it discriminatory? That was clear; without any doubt! Aw well, I live and I learn. She was very out of order with her nonsense…